Autism Awareness Month: In the Classroom

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April is Autism Awareness Month. Autism Spectrum Disorder may present itself in many different ways in and out of the classroom. In an effort to raise awareness and support for each and every student, it is important that educators are informed about Autism Spectrum Disorder and learn strategies to help our students feel comfortable and achieve success. With diagnostic data indicating a rising rate of almost 1 in 70 births, it is likely that this information will prove to be helpful in the classroom.

Because treating and managing a child with an autism diagnosis is often stressful and nerve-wracking for parents, it is common for parents to be more involved and hands-on in many aspects of the child’s education. Especially when transitioning into a new class or school, parents, too, will likely need some extra TLC and reassurance to ease the stress of acclimating their child into a new environment.

Plan to maintain consistent and positive communication with parents of your students with special needs. Be sure to ask parents about successful strategies that they implement at home. As much as possible, reinforce these practices in your classroom. The more consistency that your students experience, the better. Remember that, as always, parents are your biggest assets when finding ways to best serve your students.

Maintaining a stress-free environment is always the goal. However, this is especially important when considering the needs of a student with an autism diagnosis. Stress, loud noises, commotion, or unexpected changes in the routine can totally throw students for a loop. Students on the spectrum are usually most comfortable when routines are maintained and expectations are met. If you are planning a collaborative group activity, a boisterous lesson, or anything that strays drastically from the norm, consider how your student may react. Being proactive as opposed to reactive can mean the difference between a good day and a bad day for your student.

Plan assignments and activities that generate positive self-esteem and celebrate every student’s unique talents. Too often, when we hear of a diagnosis or condition, our minds jump straight to the hurdles—“such and such is more difficult for so-and-so.” Instead, consider how to highlight your student’s unique strengths and hidden talents. Student choice is the best practice as is, but be sure to keep an open mind and truly tap into the interests of your students with special needs.

Providing encouragement while maintaining your perspective is not always a simple task when dealing with a student’s strengths and weaknesses. What we consider to be supporting, praising, or reassuring may actually come across quite differently, depending on a student’s social perceptions. Some students with ASD are not comfortable with any sort of recognition or attention—giving this type of attention, no matter how positive, may cause unnecessary distress. It is also possible that constructive criticism or suggestions could be taken more negatively than intended. Thus, we must be cognizant of student sensitivities and preferences when providing praise or suggestions for improvement.  

Autism Awareness Month

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April is also Autism Awareness Month. In an effort to raise awareness about autism spectrum disorder (ASD), it is important to both spread valuable information and to debunk common misconceptions. With diagnostic data indicating a rising rate of almost 1 in 70 births, it is likely that autism will affect someone that you know. 

An autism diagnosis will affect each member of the family differently.

Because of the time, money, and stress associated with treating and managing a child with an autism diagnosis, the entire family will experience the pressure in some way.

For instance, due to lack of knowledge on the topic, or misconceptions about ASD, parents or guardians may blame themselves for somehow contributing to the disorder. It is a natural instinct for parents to feel that they must shoulder the blame, but this is simply not the case. When the condition was first recognized in the 1940s, experts in the field of psychology believed that autism was an emotional disorder brought on by “detached” or unaffectionate caregivers. Psychologists thought that the child’s inability to socially connect was primarily due to parenting styles. While these theories surrounding children on the autism spectrum have long been discarded, parents sometimes still maintain a sense of guilt or responsibility.

Naturally, other siblings in the family may feel that the parents are focused more on the child with special needs. They may feel neglected or even act out to gain attention. Similarly, it is common for children with ASD to follow very specific routines, including sleeping and eating patterns. This may mean that the family’s meals and schedules revolve primarily on the child with special needs—again creating a sense of jealousy or competition amongst the other siblings in the household.

Early diagnosis and interventions are crucial.

According to autism-society.org, “The estimated lifetime cost of caring for someone with autism ranges from $1.4-2.4 million, but this cost can be reduced by two-thirds through early diagnosis and intervention.” Resources, such as behavior specialists and different nonmedical interventions provide numerous options for families that have encountered a recent autism diagnosis. The many options available—from art, music, and animal therapy—to applied behavior analysis allow families to take multiple approaches when it comes to treatment.

An autism diagnosis should not be a roadblock to independence in adulthood.

Too often, a developmental delay or disability of any kind is seen as an obstacle—a door that is closed. What many people do not know is that autistic children, while they do not grow out of the condition, go on to become successfully independent adults. Mainstream education is simply the beginning. A large percentage of students with ASD further their education after high school, earning degrees and preparing for the workforce. More and more, colleges are providing support for students with special needs. Everything from social skills and career readiness, to life skills and job placement, are provided on campuses.

Independent living and close social relationships are also a reality for many adults with ASD. Simply put, with the right interventions and supports, families managing an autism diagnosis have a plethora of supportive resources and options to help their children thrive and succeed.

National Stress Awareness Month

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April is National Stress Awareness Month. Stress is an unfortunate aspect of our everyday lives that everyone experiences from time to time. Truth be told, even simply thinking about how stressed we are can sometimes result in even more stress. Perhaps the most troubling aspect of stress is the fact that we should expect to experience it at any age. So, how can we combat this culprit without adding to the stress? How can we stop stressing about stress? Take a look below at some tried-and-true methods of managing your day-to-day stress.

Get a healthy handle on the family’s eating and exercise routines.

Too often, our schedules are so hectic that there are not enough hours in the day to accomplish everything. With all of the hustle and bustle, regular exercise and healthy eating habits are left by the wayside. Instead, we may opt for the “quick-fix” dinner options and neglect the gym all together. The unhealthy food and lack of exercise will undoubtedly leave the family feeling sluggish, unmotivated, and yes—stressed. Healthy eating jumpstarts motivation and provides the body with nutritious energy. This energy then motivates us to get out and get moving. Exercise is a proven method of managing stress because it releases endorphins—the body’s natural “feel-good” chemicals. Therefore, daily cardio is not only a method of fitness and weight management, but it is also proven to greatly reduce stress.

Partake in some spring cleaning to reduce the clutter.

April is the perfect month to handle the spring cleaning that you’ve been putting off. Studies show that unkempt or messy environments can contribute to a person’s stress level.  Something as simple as reorganizing your closet can alleviate unnecessary stress and anxiety. Not only will the lack of clutter and mess make you feel better, but it will also allow your morning routine to progress a little smoother.  

Get the family outside.

Now that winter has passed and the weather is improving, it’s time to enjoy the outdoors and get some fresh air. While you may not suffer from full-blown seasonal affective disorder, we can all relate to the notion of the “winter-time blues.” In fact, recent research has shown a strong link between vitamin D deficiency and symptoms of depression. This means that sunshine, one of the body’s main sources of vitamin D, can greatly improve mood by reducing stress.

Focus on the present.

Too often we dwell on the past or future. We perseverate, replaying our thoughts over and over again. We agonize over what we could have done differently, or what we must do next time. Instead of indulging in this act of self-torment, focus only on what you can control right now. It only compounds stress when we allow ourselves to worry about things that are out of our hands. Manage what you are able, to the best of your ability, and let the rest be. Of course, this practice is much easier said than done. However, it is helpful to take a moment, take yourself off of the worry-wheel, and focus solely on what is in front of you.

What NOT To Do When Students Are Stressed

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Seeing as April is National Stress Awareness Month, I thought it would be important to seek the child’s perspective on stress. As educators, we tend to see ourselves somewhat as ambassadors or liaisons between the world of academia and the youths that we are instructing every day. While we may think we know how to help students when they are experiencing overwhelming stress, it is possible that we greatly miss the mark sometimes, too.

In an effort to better understand how children respond to stress, I asked a simple question: What does NOT help you when you are experiencing stress? Here are the answers, “straight from the mouths of babes,” as they say.

Do not tell me that I’m overreacting.

When students were asked what does not help them in moments of extreme stress, many said the same thing, “Don’t tell me to calm down.” This is true for adults, too. Never in the history of calming down has anyone ever calmed down after being told to calm down. Students want to know that their feelings are validated. The initial “it’ll be ok, calm down” response is not only ineffective, but it also discredits what they are feeling in that moment. Instead, sometimes students simply want to know that they’ve been heard.  

Do not correct me.

Another unexpected response was the fact that students are not always seeking straight answers or constant perfection. In moments of stress, teachers or parents often want to alleviate the anxiety by removing the stressor or solving the problem for the child. While at times adult interference is absolutely necessary, sometimes it simply is not. When a student is struggling with a difficult concept or task, it is normal that he or she will experience stress. Working through the struggle independently is part of the process of learning how to self-soothe and persevere through the strife.

Leave me alone.

As adults, we know that sometimes, especially when the stress level is at its peak, we simply need some solitude. This is true for students, as well. As much as we may want to comfort or provide advice, students sometimes just want some alone time to decompress. Respect that.

Don’t tell me to manage my time better.

Similarly to tip number one, recommending that students practice time management and prioritization sometimes only adds more stress. Suggestions are great; however, often times, students are truly overbooked. Validating the stress that is attributed to their packed schedules and to-do lists shows that you understand and care about their emotional well-being. Time management is a great skill that comes with practice as children mature. However, sometimes we need to be mindful of the age-group and help students to taper back.

Don’t skip the reward.

No matter the age, students need to know that their hard work and stressful efforts have paid off. Whether large or small successes, it is important to pause at those achievements that didn’t come easily. Reward students with praise when you’ve recognized great effort and perseverance. Skipping the opportunity to praise a job well-done leaves students wondering if they’ve worked hard enough. We all know what it feels like to persist through stressful situations—recognition after the fact never hurts.

 

It’s Not Always What it Seems: Anxiety in the Classroom

 

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Anxiety is something that educators are seeing more and more of in our children. With countless theories on the causes of this rising diagnosis, one thing is for sure—anxiety affects every child differently. Because anxiety is such a complex condition that is unique to each person, the symptoms vary from child to child. In fact, the symptoms may even vary from situation to situation. For instance, a child with anxiety may display different symptoms in different situations throughout the day.  Anxiety may manifest itself differently from classroom to classroom simply because of the environment or different stressors present.

Because anxiety presents itself in many different ways, it is often hard to initially see or understand, especially in the classroom. With this knowledge, it is important that teachers take a closer look at different behaviors and tendencies. For instance, a child with anxiety may present different behaviors depending on comfort level.

Here are a few signs to look for in children who may be suffering from anxiety:

Eye Contact

A child with anxiety may be resistant to making eye contact, especially during one-on-one conversations. It is important for educators to be mindful that the lack of eye contact is not a defiant or dismissive behavior. Instead, direct eye contact may be intimidating or anxiety-producing because the child feels uncomfortable with the direct attention. This can often be closely related to a more specific form of anxiety called social anxiety disorder. Children who suffer with social anxiety disorder exhibit symptoms of anxiety when they feel that all eyes are on them. Especially in social situations, such as in a classroom, a child may be reluctant to participate, work with others, or even answer one-on-one questions because of the discomfort.

Inattentiveness

Similarly, a child with anxiety may appear aloof, inattentive, or “checked out” during classroom instruction. Again, this may be an anxiety disorder rearing its head. A child with generalized anxiety disorder is often consumed with worries, fears, or concerns about an aspect of his or her life. When children fixate on a concern or worry, they are likely unable to concentrate in the classroom. This is very different from a student that is simply bored or disinterested. Furthermore, the constant fixation and worrying often continues at home, making it difficult for children to refocus or “power down.” The GAD symptoms will often result in insomnia or restlessness.

Irritability

Sometimes due to the insomnia, students with anxiety may exhibit irritability at school, as well. Of course, when sleep is regularly disrupted by anxiety, a child may appear to be more fatigued or ill-tempered. This type of behavior is different from a child who is simply choosing to disrupt or defy. When anxiety takes over, the irritability is simply an outlet for the frustration and stress.

With this in mind, it is important for teachers to identify behavioral concerns that are separate from the anxiety disorder. Often times, taking a little breather or moment to get a drink of water will be enough to allow the student to reset and alleviate the stress.

Homework Time Made Easier

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Homework is simply a fact of life for today’s students. As early as kindergarten, children are bringing homework home from school. While homework has its many benefits, the majority of students would rather forget about the additional practices, projects, and papers. With such an aversion, homework time at home can be a real battle. Yet, it does not have to be. There are many tried-and-true strategies when it comes to alleviating the stress of homework.

Here are some of our favorites.

First and foremost, a key to easing homework stress is to make sure that the homework actually makes it home. Depending on your child’s age, it may be a struggle to simply keep track of the many worksheets that need to travel to and from school. Keeping your child’s work organized can make all the difference when sitting down to work. Try using a homework folder designated for nightly assignments. Use color-coded tabs or sticky notes to manage daily assignments and due dates. Staying organized is a significant start to managing the homework routine.

Set a Schedule

Set expectations by creating a homework schedule. Between the many afterschool activities and busy schedules that each family undoubtedly juggles, homework may become an afterthought. Make sure that your child knows when and where he or she should be completing homework each night. Set limits on the use of technology during homework time. Cell phones, television, and other distractions can make homework completion impossible, so it is best that these things remain off limits until homework is completed.

Break It Down

When homework has mounted to a seemingly unmanageable level, break the assignments down to avoid a mental meltdown. Especially during the middle and high school years, the amount of homework assignments can increase greatly. Staring down a mountain of papers can stress out both you and your child. If your child is unable to chunk the assignments into manageable pieces, help them out by creating an “order of importance” list. Arrange the work into a schedule based on difficulty and due date. This way, you and your child can prioritize the homework and alleviate any stress from the many assignments.

Promote Practice, Not Perfection

When it comes to difficult assignments, emphasize the importance of effort and completion, not necessarily perfection or 100% correctness. When homework becomes a frustrating tear-session for your child, explain that homework is meant to be practice. Too often, students stress over the need to answer questions and submit flawless assignments. Yes, that is the eventual goal, but homework is meant to provide practice—not display perfection. In fact, most homework assignments are intended to show the teacher whether or not students understood the content. Teachers also use homework assignments as a way to gauge the pacing of lessons or content. So, when the tears start welling, remind your child that homework is for practice.

Building Up Self-Esteem in the Classroom

i-741519_1280Social-emotional development is a key aspect of growth for children, especially during the teenage years. Questions, conflicts, and angst revolving around one’s identity are indicative of this tempestuous stage in life. Many adolescents, if not all, struggle with building self-esteem. As educators, we have the opportunity to not only teach, but to lead by example.

I, like many adults, can personally relate to my sporadically insecure and apprehensive middle schoolers. The braces, blemishes, and all of those other lovely aspects of my own adolescent years are fresh in my mind when I stand in front of my classes—their hesitant expressions are another reminder of how hard it is to be a teenager. However, two things that can lessen the blow of adolescence are a positive outlook and a resilient self-esteem.

Methods to address the insecurities change from day to day, and vary depending on the student. Obviously, what makes one student feel comfortable and confident may not be the key for another. Even so, there are ways to make a teacher’s classroom, instruction, and demeanor more conducive to building students’ self-esteem.

Be open about your own flaws or weaknesses

For the most part, it is common for students to expect perfection and level-headedness from their teachers to a certain degree. This is evident by the fact that they are shocked and humored when we miscalculate, misspell, or misconstrue something. They are even more shocked to see us scrambling through the mall in sweats and a baseball hat on a Saturday. While mildly embarrassing to us, these somewhat amusing instances are truly beneficial to building our students’ self-esteem.

Capitalize on these opportunities by shattering the belief that perfection is the key to high self-esteem. Yes, teachers are tasked with teaching our subjects, but we are not the “almighty keepers of the knowledge.” We are human beings that have flaws and make mistakes. Embrace these blunders in the classroom—they show our students that, just like teenagers, we adults make mistakes, too. This realization that everyone makes mistakes helps students accept their own missteps and build self-esteem.

Show your true colors

Learning occurs when students take risks in the classroom. Risk-taking is also a sign of confidence and self-esteem. If we teachers are not presenting our true selves, how can we expect our students to feel comfortable enough to show their own true colors? In order to foster these themes of confidence, honesty, and authenticity in the classroom, we must truly practice what we preach.

Beware, though, that adolescents have the uncanny ability to detect phoniness. They are observant, intuitive, and critical. Therefore, it is not the easiest task for teachers to wear all of the hats and still remain authentic in the classroom. All at once, we must maintain professionalism, provide engagement, and remain enthusiastic about the lesson, while also cracking down on behaviors and managing 30+ teenagers in a room. This can be quite a tall order; however, exhibiting your own confidence in the classroom is key to encouraging your students’ self-esteem. Just as parents should model good self-esteem at home, teachers should lead by example, as well.

Explain that “this too shall pass”

Another honest conversation that teachers can have with students in order to foster self-esteem involves discussions of the future. It is easy for anyone to get caught up or discouraged by difficulties happening in the here and now. This is especially true for teenagers. Teens are developmentally prone to “sweat the small stuff.” As a teen, I remember overreacting, dramatizing, and fixating on what turned out to be tiny non-problems. Of course, hindsight is 20/20, but genuine discussions about how to look past our problems and put things into perspective will nurture a positive outlook.

As teachers, we know that personal connections can make all the difference with our students. Sharing anecdotes about my own struggles and slip-ups growing up allows me to relate to my students and relay strategies that worked versus those that didn’t quite pan out. Showing your students that you can relate to their insecurities is beneficial; showing students that you’ve shed your insecurities and built-up your self-esteem over time can be even more beneficial.

At the start of this school year, I hung two pictures outside of my classroom—my school photo from 6th grade and another from 8th grade. I don’t have to tell you that these photos are beyond embarrassing. My students know all too well that, since hormones run high and self-esteem runs low, these teenage years present plenty of challenges. By sharing your own weaknesses, exhibiting authenticity, and discussing your own fluctuations of self-esteem, teachers have the ability to lead by example and foster positive self-images in the classroom.

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week: Myths Debunked

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Myth: Eating disorders develop during teen years.

This is simply not the case. While the average age of onset is around 17 years old, the pendulum can swing further in both directions. Long after their teen years, people dealing with emotional trauma may develop an eating disorder. Even more alarming are the statistics related to girls at the younger end of the age spectrum. In recent years, girls as young as 5 have been known to comment on their own weight and make mention of high-fat foods and calorie content. Another common misconception is that men and boys do not suffer from eating disorders. In fact, 1 in 4 cases of an eating disorder involve a male. The truth is, eating disorders can develop in any gender at any age if insecurities and complexes emerge about body image.

Myth: Eating disorders are dramatic ploys for attention.

Truthfully, the last thing that a person who suffers from an eating disorder wants is attention. Eating disorders are deeply rooted in shame and embarrassment. Thus, people who suffer from these conditions will likely hide their behaviors and eating habits by dining alone or at odd hours of the day. The secrecy behind such disorders makes it especially difficult for family and friends to detect a problem until it is too late. Many sufferers will go as far as to wear oversized or bulky clothing in order to conceal their rapid weight loss. Because of the shame and humiliation attached to eating disorders, it is detrimental to brush the behaviors off as mere “cries for attention.”

Myth: You can successfully coax someone into eating.

Because of the complexities surrounding eating disorders, it often hard for family and friends to understand the struggle. A common reaction is to say, “Why don’t they just eat?” This seems like a reasonable question—if someone is literally starving themselves, just get them to eat something, right? Wrong. Successful treatment plans involve changing the way that a person feels about herself—the eating issues are fixed only after the mental and emotional issues are remedied. This means that no amount of persuasion, bribery, or coaxing will cure an eating disorder. Furthermore, simply calling someone “skinny” or telling her to eat a cheeseburger will not work. In fact, these types of judgmental comments are just as harmful as calling someone “fat.”

Myth: Eating disorders are all about the food.

This is far from the truth, in fact. Eating disorders rarely have to do with a person’s relationship with food. Instead, the eating disorder manifests itself after other psychological problems or underlying emotional issues arise. Often times, an eating disorder is rooted in a deeper psychological condition, such as depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, or OCD. The self-discipline and food restriction then becomes a means of maintaining control. When everything else is out of their hands, sufferers become fixated on the one thing that they can manipulate—their food intake. Anorexia specifically involves a major power struggle between body and mind. People who suffer from anorexia experience hunger and cravings and want to eat normally with friends; however, they simply cannot allow themselves to eat. They cannot give up the control. It is a mental battle of self-will in which winning and losing are two sides of the same coin.

Eating disorders account for the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. If you or someone you know suffers from an eating disorder, seek help. With proper therapy and treatment, recovery is possible.

Teacher’s Learning Secrets to Use at Home

censorship picGetting 30+ children in a room, and keeping them quiet, engaged, and focused for any length of time is no easy task. As educators, we must show prowess in pedagogy and behavior management at any given moment. We know what it takes to manage, encourage, educate, and inspire children—after all, it is our job. However, it is not our job, alone. As parents, you help to shape your child’s educational experience and expectations. It’s a team effort, which is why I want to share some tried and true learning and behavior management strategies that can boost comprehension and cooperation at home.

“You don’t have to do anything that you don’t want to do.”

This statement will literally stun your child at first—as it should. Children are used to following rules and listening to directions. So, if you’re ever in the “But I don’t want to” battle over homework or studying, start with this statement: You do not have to do anything, but you must be ready to accept the consequences. When you explain to children that they have some autonomy in their own decision-making, they begin to comprehend independence and consequences more clearly.

When students ask me if they have to do something, I always respond like this: There is nothing in life that we have to do, necessarily. We do not have to show up to work every day. We do not have to brush our teeth. We do not have to tell the truth. But in every decision that we make, we must be prepared to face the consequences. So, the next time your child asks if she has to read for her book report, give her the honest truth—she does not have to read the book, but she will have to accept the consequences of neglecting the reading, i.e., failure, stress, lower GPA, etc. Your child will make the right decision when faced with the options and consequences.

Push reading of any sort or genre

I often get questions like, “What should my child be reading in her spare time?” or “How can I get him interested in a different genre?” Too often, parents want to steer a child’s reading interests, or discourage certain juvenile or fictional selections. The key to reading for pleasure is that it is pleasurable. Encourage more reading at home by allowing your child to select from any genre. When children have a genuine interest in a book, they’re more likely to retain the information. The same thing is true with engagement in the classroom. This is why teachers are constantly tasked with making lessons relevant to our students’ real lives. That said, encourage reading for pleasure by leaving the selection up to your child. After all, when kids are picking up a book instead of a remote control or smartphone, I consider that a win.

Master the follow-up question

The follow-up question is a great technique to prompt your child to expound upon a statement or idea. You can use a follow-up question for conversations beyond homework, as well. For instance, the ever-so-popular “How was your day?” question often elicits an unenthused response. Instead of settling with a blasé reply, follow-up with another question. Ask your child what exactly was “fine” about today? Prompt him to define the word “fine.” Ask how the day could have gone differently or inquire about what your child hoped would have happened today.

Of course, the follow-up question applies to academics, as well. Ask your child how he or she would describe the main character of an assigned novel. Then, follow-up with the “why” question. What happened in the story to bring him to this conclusion? Does he think that his opinion of this character will change as the story continues? These questions urge your child to elaborate and explain in detail. This practice, which teachers use frequently, demonstrates the importance of being able to not only answer appropriately, but to explain how one came to that conclusion.

These teacher’s “secrets” can be just as effective at home as at school. And when employed by both parents and teachers, these learning strategies encourage and enhance student autonomy and achievement.

Self-Esteem: Building a Strong Foundation

qualities-795867_1920February is National Boost Your Self-Esteem Month. Boosting one’s self-esteem is something that everyone has surely dealt with at some point. Even adults struggle with issues of self-esteem and self-worth from time to time. For teens, self-esteem, or the lack thereof, can greatly affect social and emotional development.

Merriam-Webster defines self-esteem as, “a feeling of having respect for yourself and your abilities; a confidence and satisfaction in oneself.” I consider self-esteem to be closely related to comfort level—how comfortable am I with my person as a whole? The tricky thing about self-esteem is that it can take decades to develop a strong sense of self-worth. Even then, once achieved, the comfort level is not concrete or guaranteed to last. Perhaps the most interesting thing about self-esteem is its plasticity or fluidity. Similarly to happiness, self-esteem can and will fluctuate throughout one’s life. You can be a happy person, and still experience low moments in the same manner that you can be a confident person, but still have periods of insecurity or low self-esteem.

This fluidity is especially important when discussing self-esteem with adolescents. The important thing to teach teens about self-image and confidence is that it can and will develop as we age. Furthermore, there are strategies that we can personally employ to build self-esteem.

Exercise positive self-talk: At any point throughout the day, teens are conversing with themselves using “self-talk.” This internal dialogue that we all employ from time to time has the ability to sway our moods and affect our self-perception. Almost like a chain reaction, what we think influences how we feel, which then influences how we behave. A teen that engages in negative self-talk is setting a self-fulfilling prophecy into motion. When people constantly put themselves down about their appearance or abilities, they orchestrate their own obstacles. Instead, encourage your child to engage in self-praise. Model that behavior by engaging in your own positive self-talk. Ask your child what he believes is his best personal trait. Ask him if he has any hidden talents or unique skills. Simply discussing the positives can alter your teen’s self-perception.

Discuss reasonable expectations: Self-esteem is more often compromised when we experience some sort of failure or rejection. It is important to talk through these disappointing moments with teens. Let your child know that failure is an important part of learning and growing that everyone experiences. Think of these moments as setbacks, an opportunity to simply begin again with more knowledge this time around. Also discuss the idea that perfection does not exist—there is no perfect athlete, artist, or musician. The perfect face and body are fantasies, as well. The idea is not to encourage your teen to aim low, but instead to prepare her to expect challenges in life. The more prepared your teen is to face challenges, the less she will internalize a set-back as a personal failure.

Defuse negative energy from others: Self-esteem can be greatly influenced by peers and others’ perceptions. This is especially true for adolescents, when fitting in and being socially accepted becomes more of a priority. No matter how much we want to deny or ignore it, other people’s words can greatly affect us. During adolescent years, when teens are most vulnerable and sensitive to peer pressure, teasing and other unkind gestures can compound the negative “self-talk.” When we hear others saying negative things about us, true or not, we may begin to question ourselves. Am I stupid like they say? Am I ugly like they claim? How can I be better so that others will like me? These types of questions arise when we internalize the negativity that others inflict on us. While we can’t control what other people say, we can control how we react to them. Teach your teen to ignore the negativity and focus more on his own feelings. Encourage teens to focus on the opinion that matters most—their own.

A fascinating aspect of self-esteem is the fact that we have some authority over it. In the same way that we work out to build and maintain muscle mass, we can shape our self-esteem. Yes, it takes time. It can be a lifelong process, but everything worth having requires time and effort. Talk to your teen about self-perception and self-esteem. The earlier that a child begins to feel confident in himself, and learns to maintain and build that confidence, the better.